Archive for the ‘Dustin Hoffman’ Category


24 Apr

Papillon — directed by Franklin J. Shaffner. Drama. Prisoners in a French Jungle Prison plan an escape. 155 minutes Color 1973.


Papillon does not hold up as well when it came out. The interiors are sound stage stuff, and they are overlit. And, if we are to take the native Indians on Honduras seriously, what on earth is Victor Jory doing there in all that makeup? Strong as such, the script is by Dalton Trumbo and reflects his stand for independent action by individuals, which is heartening and impractical at the same time. The picture has the virtue of being shot in sequence, first in Spain, then in Jamaica, but the direction is ragged and the execution of the principal escape is noticeably improbable. Dustin Hoffman resuscitates his stage performance of 1966 in The Journey of the Fifth Horse, a fuddy duddy fussbudget he was to put in play again in Rainman. Hoffman is the least affectionate actor in the world. He is not interested in acting a character; what he is interested in is playing an actor playing a character. This means he is interested in being noticed for his “acting,” which is why he does not really qualify for character parts and why he is not to be taken seriously in Tootsie and Rainman. So once more we get Hoffman’s automaton, a fancy characterization that never leaves the studio easel. The result is that he does not really relate to his co-star, which leaves Steve McQueen to carry the picture. McQueen is a limited but interesting actor of great technical cleverness and masculine sex appeal for both genders. He has beautiful wary blue eyes in a small eventful face in a well-shaped head. Here he and Hoffman wear rot-tooth dentures and a ruination of clothes, which help, but one never puts money down on their partnership in escape. For all his carryings on, Hoffman is just no fun. His plaintive whine is designed to elicit pity, but it inspires exasperation instead. On the other hand, McQueen’s other-side-of-the-tracks tuning aid him forcefully in being this pertinacious underdog who refuses to stop escaping. The film is his and it remains one of the proudest efforts of his craft.



Moonlight Mile

25 Aug

Moonlight Mile – Written and Directed by Brad Silberling. Family Drama. Truth emerges following the death of a daughter who is also a fiancée. 146 minutes Color 2002.

* * * *

Jake Gyllenhaal is wet behind the ears when he stars in this film, but, still and all, he really does know how to play his cards. Until he does, you watch the hieroglyphic of his face, his curious mouth, his deep blue eyes, and his hunched walk for a sign of life, and you find immovable mystery. But he is still one of the few actors, all this being so, in whom I can actually place myself (and I resemble him in no particular). He makes the idiotic mistake of combing his hair over his brow in order to make himself look a teenager, and only succeeds in making himself look eleven – which is odd, since the character he is playing is 22 and Gyllenhall at the time was also 22. If you care about her, and I do, Susan Sarandon is sometimes a wonderful character actor, and this is one of those times. She also has a wonderful character to play, a feisty lady with a mind of her own and a wise eye on the conduct of others. The detriment to the film, here as so often elsewhere, is Dustin Hoffmann who is mechanical and actory, and none of whose good ideas are good enough to be natural. He is supposed to be an irritating character; he is just an actor whose acting is irritating; it’s not the same thing. When he drops it, he breathes a life that he has not earned. What less can I say? Let me say it. He is an actor of repellent technique. The film brings forth to blot him out the great Holly Hunter as the D.A. and an actor called Ellen Pompeo, a personality of the kind of female forwardness that once was found in the likes of young Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake. She’s unusually likeable and mysterious. Sarandon, Hoffman and Gyllenhaal are Jewish. The Sarandon and Hoffman characters give their daughter a Jewish funeral. But nothing is done with this, nothing is realized about it artistically. Odd. Still, much of the excellence and recommendability of this film is the work of the writer director, who does miscalculate the writing of the exposition regarding Pompeo’s working double shifts to keep open a bar, but whose character dialogue has lots of vitality and ambiance. It’s very well directed, beautifully filmed, and the setting is sensationally right. Give it a shot. You will not be wasting your time.






The Journey Of The FIfth Horse

28 Jan

The Journey Of The Fifth Horse – directed by Larry Arrick – Drama. The diary of a timorous lover falls into the hands of a small-minded bureaucrat. 120 minutes, black and white, 1966.

* * * * *

There are some actors who are before us because of what they are, and there are some actors who are before us because of what they do. Dustin Hoffman is an example of the latter. As an actor he is a technocrat. What he does is perhaps not without daring, but it is not the same sort of daring that a circus performer undergoes, which takes courage, but rather the sort of sniffing daring of a rat coming out of wainscoting after dark. He seems to be without heart and without humor. He seems to be before us to show off. And what he is showing off is his craft, which he would call his art, but which is not. Sometimes it works. Rainmaker and Tootsie were times it did not work. But this is one of the times it works like crazy. As a cold, calculating, loveless, egomaniacal, self-centered fussbudget obsessive he is perfectly cast. The play by Ronald Ribman comes from Turgenev’s Diary of a Superficial Man in which the factotum of a publisher, Hoffman, reads and responds to the journal of a heartbroken man. The man is played by Michael Tolan who does yeoman service in the role; Tolan is a handsome man who plays a shy man who has never loved or been loved before. It’s hard to understand his devotion, however, for the actress who plays her gives a performance as bland a piece of white bread with the crust cut off. But never mind: this record of an NET record of an off-Broadway production exists because of the performance of the then-unknown Hoffman: his picking lice off his little bald spot, the cormorant-like forward crick of his neck, his virtuosoism with the locks on his door, his monotonous persistent chuckle, the mechanical washing of his hands, the beetle-like whine of his voice, the default position of his nastiness create a Dickensian monstrosity more closely allied in style, and correctly, with European or Japanese acting traditions and methods. Fascinating if you like to watch the iceman at work. He won the Obie for this, and deserved it.



The Little Fockers

11 Jan

The Little Fockers – directed by Paul Weitz – low comedy in which an Irish don hands over his mission in life to his Jewish son-in-law.   120 minutes color 2010.

* * * *

This is Abey’s Irish Rose as a movie. That most long running and now long forgotten of all plays and radio shows was about the Jewish boy who married a Colleen. Same here. In those days, back in the 30s and 40s, the conflict was based on immigrant wars, the Kikes against the Micks, the stubbornness of the territorial and cultural and religious protectorates of the tribes who had just or almost just come here – and intermarried. West Side Story is musical version of it. But here we have as befits the theme a series. This is the third, and there is nothing wrong with it at all. You have a fine cast. Barbra Streisand plays her usual self-pushing self. Laura Dern does the chilling principal of a fancy modern school. Owen Wilson is the clueless sybarite best friend. Dustin Hoffman is the fool Jewish father. Harvey Keitel is a the bellicose earth-mover. Blythe Danner is the elegant mother of the Irish don. What brings the movie down is that Robert de Niro is no more an Irish don than a plate of spaghetti is. He takes off the shelf his generic technique and mugs and moues throughout the piece. And there is some cause, it is true, for we are looking at low comedy here. But it is Ben Stiller who carries the piece. What a marvelous player of comedy he is. Has anyone noticed that yet? How subtle he is? How intricate in his response? How real? Check out the moment when he accepts the honor from de Niro; he has taken on the hero’s fullness; he simply asks his son to eat his food; the child vomits on him. But the vomit is not what’s funny. What’s funny is Stiller’s barely discernible inflation. The piece ends in a branagan at a child’s birthday party, a fight which is unconvincing, since no one seems to notice it, but that is the fault of the crudeness of the script, a script which is sometimes quite witty. I enjoyed myself. But then, in asking for so much, I accept so little.



Last Chance Harvey

27 Oct

Last Chance Harvey –– directed by Joel Hopkins –– comedy: two losers win. 93 minutes color 2008

* * * * *

This film has a certain winsomeness in its removal from passion, as love finds its way into the affections of its two characters. Both these folks are over 50, so you are in for a very pleasant journey indeed, one more comical and charming than the Deborah Kerr/Cary Grant An Affair To Remember, which it in some ways resembles, this time with the man as the invalid. Kathy Bates has a grand small scene as the former wife of Hoffman, and Richard Schiff and Eileen Atkins carry their parts as far their parts allow them. What we are faced with is the two leads, and no two individuals could be more disparate. Dustin Hoffman is a squirt, and this is “used” consciously by the actor, who is shorter than Thompson. It is at one with the highly controlled sort of acting he always done; his “method”. There is much talk about his “detail” and his “preparation,” but I never see the results on the screen. What I see is banal, shallow, and routine. Besides which, I suppose he is one of the most unpleasant movie stars I have ever seen. His face is uninteresting, but setting that aside, he is an actor who often smiles, but perfunctorily always; he smiles but he never smiles. His voice has an excellent timbre, but it monotonizes everything he says. But what is worst, it and his entire physical manifestation exude self-pity. The note of its pitch is in every noise he makes. It is a bid for a sympathy he does not have the gift or the grace to naturally inspire. And one does feel sorry for him for that. Only once does he appear real: towards the end of the film there is a shot of him in which he looks very very old, and it occurred to me that he has always been old and that that was his forte. Opposite him is the infallible Emma Thompson, and how it comes about that these two play together so well, or are able at least to perform their own roles with separate excellence is a mystery to me. She has true wit, openness, smarts, readiness, openness, grace, womanliness, openness. Anyhow, I recommend the piece. It is a film for grown-ups, the story of older people who, not supposing they ever could, do begin to love someone again.


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